Japan is on its way to the Tokyo 2020 knockout stages in the men’s football tournament after the team made up entirely of current or former J.LEAGUE players dominated the group stage.
Japan opened the tournament against South Africa in Tokyo, and it was fitting that Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo played the role of hero. The F.C.Tokyo product, playing in F.C.Tokyo’s stadium, cut in from the left and hit a blistering shot that clipped the inside of the post before finding its way to the net for the lone goal in Japan’s 1-0 victory.
They then went to the home of Urawa Reds, Saitama Stadium 2002, for their next match against Mexico. The 2012 gold medalists presented Japan with a stern test, but the hosts were up to it. Kubo got the Samurai Blue going with a sixth-minute tally, and then Ritsu Dōan, who came through the Gamba Osaka academy, buried a penalty for a 2-0 Japan lead after just 11 minutes. Mexico found the net late, but it was not enough as Japan came away 2-1 winners.
With two wins in hand, Japan only needed to draw France in their final match to stop Group A, but they did much more than that at Yokohama F·Marinos’ Nissan Stadium, which is known as International Stadium Yokohama during Tokyo 2020. Once again, Kubo started the show with an early goal and this time Urawa Reds’ Hiroki Sakai followed it up with a goal of his own as Japan went into halftime with a 2-0 lead.
But that still was not enough for a rampaging Japan. Kawasaki Frontale academy product Koji Miyoshi added to the lead in the 70th minute in the stadium he once called home during a stint with Marinos, before Daizen Maeda, who is fifth in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE with 10 goals this season, scored one more on his home turf to wrap up an exceptional 4-0 win over France.
Japan are the only team in the tournament to win all three of their group stage matches, putting them top of the pack heading into the knockout stages. They will meet New Zealand at the home of Kashima Antlers, Kashima Soccer Stadium, for their quarterfinal clash. After a terrific group stage, Japan are primed to make a deep run and maybe pick up their first men’s football medal since 1968 as this group of J.LEAGUE stars shine on home soil.